Off To The Races

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

Tour de Fleece kicked off 5 days ago and I’ve been at the wheel for every one of them. It’s been an absolute blast. I’ve gone stash diving, spun yarn that’s been on my list for way too long, and am pushing myself to become a better spinner. The Tour came along at the right time to be the perfect motivation I needed to get going again. It’s been months since I’ve spun anything at all, and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until now. 

Since I’ve taken such a long break, I picked 3 projects I thought I could tackle in 3 weeks. The first is something that I’ve wanted to spin since last year, a 2-ply yarn barber pole yarn with one solid ply and one wild variegated ply. I bought a 2oz set of random mini-batts from PineRiverKnits last year just for this purpose. To go with it, I set aside an equal amount of Ashland Bay merino in logwood. Then I put it all together in a bag, and that was the prep.

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

I started spinning the batts right after breakfast on Saturday. I didn’t want to fuss over the color progression, so I grabbed batts without even looking at them. The bigger ones I split in half lengthwise and worked the smaller ones as they were. There was so much color bundled up in every one! All of them were so fun and so easy to spin that I was sad when they were gone. Then I wasted no time spinning up the grey ply. My hands still felt pretty good and a had a couple of hours to myself, so I started spinning the first sock yarn ply. That first day of the Tour was really productive.

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

I didn’t have quite the same output on Day 2, but there was still plenty of plying. I use a jumbo flyer and bobbin for plying because I can get 4+ ounces on it without a hassle.  The yarn was beautiful and plying was going really well until I started running out of grey. I started plying a little slower in hopes that the grey would last a little longer. I know it doesn’t work that way, but I couldn’t help myself. There was still half an ounce left of the batt ply when I finally used all the grey. I wanted as much yardage as possible out of this one skein so drastic measures were taken. 

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

Having 2 flyers for my wheel made this really easy. I took the jumbo flyer and the front maiden assembly off and replaced it the standard flyer and maiden. No cutting of yarn required. Then I spun another half ounce of grey and let the twist rest for a couple of hours. Once I switched out the flyers again, I was back to plying. There was still a little bit of the batt ply left, but I pliedit with itself. 

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

I am absolutely thrilled with this yarn. It’s lofty and cushy and soft. The colors are way outside of what I would usually pick for myself, but I love how they interact with the grey. The yarn is thick and thin, ranging from sport to bulky weight. I can’t get the idea of using it for a trianglar or crescent-shaped shawl out of my head because it seems like the best way to show off the colors. I’ve got about 206 yards to work with which is probably enough for a small shawlette. 

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

Now I’m putting all of my spinning time into this sock yarn. One ply left for the first skein and 3 to go for the next. Spinning these is going much faster than I expected. I might be spinning more than 3 projects after all. 

The first 5 days of Tour de Fleece have been a blast with 1 awesome skein of handspun yarn! Off To The Races | withwool.com

Slow and Steady Tour de Fleece

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Tour de Fleece is well underway with 8 days down and 13 left to go. This year, I’m doing things a little differently. As in previous years, I’m aiming to challenge myself and learn something new but at a rather relaxed pace. I’m not trying to spin all the things, clear out my fiber stash, or make myself spin every free moment of the day. In an afternoon, I might turn a batt into rolags and start spinning them that night or the next morning. No rush. The yardage isn’t exactly piling up but I get to spend more time enjoying the process. Plus, at the end of it all, there’s beautiful yarn waiting for me.

My goals are pretty simple.

  • Spin up the batts I made during my adventures with the drum carder. 
  • Spin new fibers. I’ve got Romney, Alpaca, Angora, a BFL/Silk/Angora blend, and silk hankies. All fibers that have been hanging out for far too long in my stash and I’m ready to try my hand at them. Bonus, I’ve turned a few of them into batts. 
  • Try new techniques and read up on spinning. Top technique on my list - A tutorial by Lisa Raynor that shows how pulling a single through several flyer hooks to lessen tension makes it easier to spin fine yarn. I haven’t yet been able to spin a fingering weight yarn on my wheel and this tip might get me one step closer. As for reading, I’ve got the latest issue of Ply to keep me occupied.

The relaxed pace of this year’s tour is growing on me and the last 2 weeks should be a breeze. How’s your Tour de Fleece spinning going? Achieving your goals or throwing everything to the wind?

Batt Showcase

My time with the drum carder is over. It went back at last months and the 4 weeks that I had it were a crash course in carding. I made the first batt because I wanted to see what would happen and it turned out pretty despite my complete lack of knowledge. With one batt under my belt, I decided to do a little research and figure out how to actually use a drum carder. What could you make with one? What could be carded? Maybe more importantly, how do you clean one? I watched videos, read articles, and came across people that knew what they were doing. People that threw in disorganized fiber and had art come out the other side.

Up to this point, from the lone batt I’d spun and most of the listings I’ve seen on Etsy, I had the idea that batts were an everything and the kitchen sink kind of thing.The kind that was 3 types of wool, sparkly bits, silk noil, and some angora for good measure. After my research, I found out differently. Sure, there are kitchen sink batts but batts can also be smooth and uniform. They can focus on color instead of texture. Batts can be bold or subtle. Fibers can be carefully blended or smashed all together. Variation is awesome stuff. 

My batts got better was the weeks went on. They’re all on the subtle side since I just wanted to prep my stash of unprocessed fiber to spin - several ounces of alpaca, locks, angora, and random mystery wool. I wanted to play with color too but ran out of time. Well, I can always rent it again.

The very first batt was 40g of mystery wool from a Gwen Erin grab bag.

Second batt was made from 40 g of Corriedale roving.

This batt is my attempt at duplicating a rolag given to me at a previous guild meeting. Looks similar but I won’t know for sure until I spin it.

These 4 soft and lovely batts were carded from the very first ounces of my fiber stash, 4 oz of light rose grey alpaca. Took me years to prep this fiber and I’m glad I finally did.

The Romney, and reason I rented the carder, turned into 2 batts.

More alpaca from the stash which got a good wash before going on the carder. 

Had a small sample of a BFL and Silk roving that I decided to blend with half its weight in Angora. The batt is wonderfully soft with great luster.

Last batt off the carder was 14g of 100% Angora. Working with straight Angora was more difficult than blending it with wool but not impossible. 

It’s nice to have my kitchen table back but I kind of miss having the drum carder around. I still want to play around with color and blending fibers. Plus, using the carder was just fun and I enjoyed it. Before I had one to my spinning wish list though, I’m going to spin up a few of the batts I made. If I like working with them and the finished yarn, I’ll do some research to pick out the perfect drum carder. Any suggestions on where I should start looking? 

Drum Carding Weekend

This was what my kitchen table looked like pretty much all of Saturday and Sunday. See, this is the last week I’ve got the drum carder and I’m determined to make the most of it.

I spent a good chunk of Saturday feeding 3 oz of light rose grey alpaca through the carder. It was amazing to see the fiber go from crimped locks to a soft and fluffy batt. Don’t think I’ll ever get tired of seeing that transformation. 

On Sunday, I carded the 2 oz of Romney bought at April’s spinning guild meeting. The very same Romney that prompted my last minute decision to rent the drum carder.  Locks went in and a fluffy cloud came out. If it looks like a cloud, it has to be a cloud right?

In total, I processed 5 oz over the weekend and I’m still not done. There’s more alpaca and angora coming from my distant stash. Until that arrives, I’ve got grand plans for this bump of fiber from Spun Right Round. Going to use it to try something new, The Monet Effect Technique from Grace Shalom Hopkins. Interested to see how carding recombines the pink, blue, and green together.

Handspun Nebula

As unassuming as this skein looks, it is actually spun from wool and a whole lot of firsts. The skein was made from the first batt I turned into fauxlags, aka fake rolags. It’s the first time that I’ve spun a true woolen yarn. The first time that I’ve spun black wool. As well as the first time that I’ve spun long-draw from a traditional prep. More than a sample anyway. Having spun this yarn and to now be holding it in my hands, makes me feel like I’ve leveled up to become a better, more knowledgeable spinner. Still one that still doesn’t know what to make with her ever growing stash of handspun either.

The batt had been sitting in the stash for years without a purpose. It wasn’t until seeing a demo on rolags and actually spinning one that I had some clue of what to do with the fiber. Unfolded, the batt covered my entire balcony table. What exactly had I a gotten myself into? Remembering the demo, I spent the next couple of afternoons turning the batt into 37 fauxlags. They covered most of my kitchen table. Couldn’t help but wonder, again, what I’d gotten into but all those worries disappeared once I started spinning.

Big or small, long or short, the rolags were incredibly fun to spin. Spinning the 37th was just as enjoyable as spinning the first not just because of the different sizes but also the colors. One rolag would be black with bits of purple and the next would be full of eye popping blue. Despite their differences, the rolags combined to form a fairly consistent yarn. Well, as consistent as a lumpy, bumpy, woolen spun yarn can be. Plying definitely evened out some of the more mountainous sections. After a bath and a few good thwacks against the shower wall, the yarn plumped up nicely. I’m ready to prep and spin another skein just like it.

The Specs: 

Fiber: Spinner’s Hill Batt - 4 oz of mystery wool

Color: Storm (combo of blue, black, purple, and brown)

Yardage: 440 yds + 11

Weight: Sport, 10 - 12 WPI

Dates: March - April 26, 2014

Adventures With A Drum Carder

I blame the Romney I bought at last Saturday’s spinning guild meeting. The fiber is lovely, soft, and clean but it still needs to be prepped for spinning. Unfortunately, I have no way to prep said fiber which prompted the last minute decision to rent the guild’s drum carder. It’s definitely large and in charge. So large, in fact, that I brought it home in a rolling duffle bag. Just what exactly I’d gotten myself into? Then guilt set in because there were only 2.5 ounces of Romney compared to the enormity of this hungry machine. The guilt didn’t last long because I started to remember all the alpaca, angora, and random bits of wool that have been sitting un-prepped and un-spun in my stash for years. And what about all that roving? Maybe I could experiment with that too. See ya later, Guilt.

The first thing to hit the drum was some random bits of practice grab bag wool. Before feeding it through the drums, I pulled the chunks apart to thin them down a little. Didn’t worry about color or anything else. The wool went in until the drum was full and there still half a bag left to play with.

The colors blended beautifully though there are still random spots of solid blue after 3 passes through the carder. Looking forward to spinning it up and seeing the finished yarn.

Since this was my first time using a drum carder, or a carder of any kind, I’m amazed at the transformation. Before, there were just squishy clumps of wool I didn’t know what to do with. Now, I’ve got something that I can’t wait to spin. Also, the process was a blast. Get to play with wool and fiber? Check. Get to play with color? Check. Get to make stuff? Double check. Me thinks that I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole and I have no idea how deep it goes.

Since making those first 2 batts, I’ve done a little more research on how to properly use a drum carder. How to clean one too. The best info I’ve found is a 3-part series from vampy.co.uk. Part 1 is all about the basics of how a drum carder works and the necessary accoutrements. Part 2 is about carding raw fleece. Part 3 is about how to blend fibers. Now that I’m armed with a little more knowledge, I’m ready to play around, experiment, and make more batts. 

After the Tour

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For my last Tour de Fleece skein, I decided to give spinning from batts another try. This batt, thankfully doesn’t look like upchucked bodily fluids or any other bodily fluid I know of. The stats: 1.9 ounces of Something Wicked This Way Wanders... by The Madd Batter. It’s a combination of Falkland, Firestar Sparkle, Merino, Mohair and Romney locks, and a bit of silk just because.

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I managed to finish this skein with a day to spare but the spinning was a mixed bag of easy-peasy and challenging. There were locks that disrupted my drafting, clumps of wool that wanted to do their own thing, as well as silk and sparkle that were more interested in floating around the room than becoming yarn. After spinning one long single, I plied it back on itself to make 90 yards of 2-ply which is part-art yarn. Some parts of crazy with sparkle and wild locks. Other parts are humble and unassuming. All around, the skein is a strong ending to Tour de Fleece. 

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The Stats

5 skeins finished  |  18.9 ounces of fiber spun  |  1,040 total yards

1,040 total yards? I just boggled my own mind and that’s awesome! I never dreamed I’d spin more than 1,000 yards during the Tour with makes the whole thing a success in my book. The added bonus is that I actually met most of my goals. I learned new skills - spinning from a batt and the butterfly wrap - and refined others. I spun new fibers and found a new favorite, Falkland. Didn’t get to around to the silk mawatas though. I expanded my tools with a WPI gauge from Girl on the Rocks, a 22 gram drop spindle, and a turkish spindle. I spun the good, special stuff and didn’t ruin it. I did not manage to SPIN ALL THE THINGS! but I did try. 

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Goals and yardage aside, Tour de Fleece taught me to lose the complacency with my own skills and keep learning, keep trying, and keep pushing forward. I’m a better spinner than I was a month ago and there is still so much more to practice. The thought isn’t depressing, it’s inspiring not just for my spinning but also in the rest of my life. There’s so much I can do if I just put my mind and passion to work.

Keep learning and keep pushing forward, my friends.

Spinning Batts

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Once I pulled this batt out of the envelope and decided it was good, my second thought was that it was larger than my head. Then, how am I supposed to make this into yarn? For all I knew it might as well have been a monster waiting for my to let down my guard so it could eat me. 

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Since Tour de Fleece waits for no spinner, I went looking for tutorials on spinning from batts and the internet came to my rescue. 

How to Spin from Batts by Vampy

The post lists five different ways to prep batts for spinning with clear photos and written instructions.

How to Spin a Batt from the Knit Girllls

This video covers four ways to spin from a batt. The yarn is being made on a spinning wheel but the prep still applies for a spindle. 

A Batt? What’s that? by St Seraphina Knits

Another informative video but this covers how to open the packaged batt and focuses on tearing the batt into strips for easy spinning.

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Eventually, I decided to tear the batt into strips and pre-drafted the fibers down to a manageable size. After all the uncertainty, this seemed like cheating since the prep work was so easy and nothing to fear. Now I want to get more batts and experiment with different prep methods. 

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Now that the monster had been tamed, it was time to spin and it was no harder than working from roving. If only the single didn’t look like upchucked bodily fluids.  Any suggestions for what to do with 3.5 oz of fiber that you don’t want to spin anymore?

Tour de Fleece 2012

Tour de Fleece, the annual spin - along to the Tour de France, has been in the back of my head for a couple of months. I kept hearing about it every few weeks and kept not deciding whether or not to join. Turns out, today, June 30th, is the first day of Tour de France and the Tour de Fleece. I thought I was out of the running this year until I checked the mail.

Waiting for me was a 4 oz. Spinner’s Hill Batt aptly named Garden Vegetable. I’ve never spun or even bought a batt before, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly, I was thrown for a complete loop. What am I supposed to do with this thing?

It’s huge and fluffy, and almost the size of my cat. (He’s also very fluffy by the way.) I’ve never tried to spin from anything like this before. Since the Tour de Fleece is all about challenging yourself and spinning yarn, I’m in. 

I might be going a bit overboard on my goals/challenges the first time around but why not? Whether I meet them all or not, I still be better than when I started.

  1. Learn new skills. I still pretty new to the whole spinning yarn thing and there is so much to learn and experiment with, and refine. This means that some days I might just watch tutorials and read articles. Then, the next day is all practice, practice, practice.
  2. Try new fibers. Till now, I’ve been spinning with nondescript wool, Bluefaced Leicester, and a little bit of Polworth. In my stash, there’s Corriedale, Faulkland, Alpaca Blends, and Silk Mawatas. It’s time to branch out.
  3. Expand my toolset. I’ve got a few heavier spindles, a niddy-noddy, a knitted plying ball, and a few dowels I’m using as bobbins. Turns out, I’m actually serious about this whole spinning thing,  so it’s time for a few more tools - a WPI gauge and a lighter spindle, for example. Any suggestions?
  4. Understand? Good. Play! I’ve spun a lot of the past few months and I’m light years ahead of where I was in March but I’m still afraid to pull out the good, hand dyed stuff because I might mess it up. Time to nip that in the bud, pull out the good stuff, and make some yarn.